Some concepts are worth belaboring more than others, and my reason for returning to the epistemology of resentment is that it is constantly evolving. I’m sure one can find examples of this epistemology in earlier times, since resentment is our gut reaction to what strikes us as unequal treatment, but the fact is that the late 18th century was the first time when a revolutionary movement powerful enough to topple a legitimate ruler was able to express its motivation as a simple critique of inequality. That this had not been the case in the English revolutions of the previous century is not, I think, a matter of controversy.

The term itself has a pejorative flavor, and indeed, the motivators of the phenomena it describes would not use the term “resentment” to define their views. But in the gesture of liberating the social order from hierarchical castes, the basic source of the intuition that such systems are immoral is best described as resentment; it is resentment that we feel when we consider ourselves to have been treated unfairly, subject to criteria less favorable than those applied to others. I do not mean for us to understand this term as the equivalent of a slogan; it is indeed an epistemological principle—indeed, one might well say, the most fundamental such principle for understanding justice, such as little children, for example, use in determining that “if mommy/big brother/cousin Julie can do x, why can’t I?” Thus the American Declaration of Independence proclaims that “all men are created equal,” meaning that caste distinctions in the broadest sense are not justifiable, even if at the time slavery was still tolerated, not to speak of inequality between the sexes.

Victimary thinking, now formalized in the dogma of Wokeness, is a powerful distortion of this epistemology that fosters many absurdities that violate basic common sense, one of the most outlandish of which is the “fair” treatment of transgenderism that allows biological males into women’s sports, locker rooms, and toilets. The president’s recent proclamation of Trans Visibility Day on Easter Sunday is an unambiguous demonstration of the degree to which such virtue-signaling has come to be accepted as the new moral norm. But given that such phenomena demonstrate the immense power of victimary ideology, at the extreme point of which are the demonstrations accusing Israel of “genocide,” it behooves us to reflect more deeply on this epistemology and its ramifications.

Speaking as one whom retirement has relieved of formerly enjoyable academic duties which I would undoubtedly find today painful at best, I have the advantage of a freedom of thought not substantially in conflict with my personal interests. As a member of what has surely been history’s most favored generation of American Jews, and no doubt of Western Jews as a whole, one for whom this identification was far more an advantage than a handicap, I was struck by this recent quote from a Jewish mother helping her child with her college applications ( “We took Columbia off the list as well as UCLA,” citing my college Alma Mater and my longtime workplace as exemplary Jew-unfriendly institutions! Yet my reaction is at least slightly tempered by the “it’s an ill wind…” point that it’s not such bad medicine for Jews today, given that in the worst of cases we risk neither gas chambers or slaughter by “militants,” to gain a feel for what Jewish life has been over the centuries almost everywhere else. My Russian Jewish friends don’t need such lessons; they have all at least been called the equivalent of “dirty Jew” in the streets of their native land. Antisemitism isn’t just about someone’s not letting you into their country club.

I have insisted on the necessary connection between antisemitism and Wokism because the notion of “white guilt,” which in itself sounds innocent of prejudice against anyone other than “ourselves,” is not merely obnoxious to “poor whites,” a.k.a. deplorables whom one’s virtue-signaling aims to show up as insufficiently sensitive to the sufferings of “victims,” but has at least one historically significant corollary that expresses its hatred/guilt for Western civilization, as it has frequently over the past millennium or so: by singling out the people whose religious intuition is at its root. In this form of white guilt—which cannot of course be called by that name—the (white?) antisemite avoids the stigma by concentrating “whiteness” in this one place. The so-called Red-Green alliance allows even KKK-style “white supremacists” to join the alliance so long as they are willing to concentrate their fire on Israel’s “genocide” of innocent Palestinians.

But it does no good to limit oneself to railing at the evil nature of such collective actions without seeking in the depths of this nature a revelation that can ultimately provide a weapon against it, for example by undermining the “intersectional” solidarity that holds it together.

Why indeed have women’s sports organizations been so passive in face of policies that are not just offensive to common sense but potentially physically injurious to female athletes? Why is there no campaign for the latter to simply boycott competitions in which “trans-men” are entered? How many times would such actions have to occur before the practice is ended?

Clearly the consensus of feminist movements and their leaders is that intersectional solidarity with the transgendered even in this not only discriminatory but physically dangerous practice is of greater moral weight than commitment to what would normally be considered “women’s issues.” Those women who reject this viewpoint are stigmatized as TERFs, trans-exclusionary radical feminists—“radical” in a bad sense, for putting loyalty to one’s own group ahead of the intersectional agenda. The idea that such a stigma has a real practical effect and that nearly all feminist leaders are intimidated by it is one of the most shocking truths about Wokism. Refusing to let men with penises into woman’s toilets is a crime against the rights of victims to self-gendering. (One might compare, for example, “Queers for Palestine,” knowing the fate of homosexuals in Islamic societies.) And the same value system reigns throughout school systems that encourage even early graders to declare their “real” gender and forbid teachers to reveal these declarations to their parents.

The fundamental principle of victimary thinking is that a victim, whatever his powers of thought and action, has in principle no “agency.” The oppression of the society that denies the equal standing of his particular identity, whether of race, sex/gender, physical ability/functionality… “brackets” his personal will, cutting it off from the judgment of the “dominant society.” If one wonders how a district attorney or prosecutor can possibly refuse to punish perpetrators of openly criminal acts, the source of this justification, which is really to say, this conception of the sacred, lies in this denial of agency—a perversion, if one will, of Jesus’ line in Luke 23:34, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (One can well imagine how Jesus himself would have reacted to the updated interpretation!) This new sacred deliberately incriminates the social order by freeing the petty criminals who exploit it by shoplifting, pickpocketing, etc.; presumably when we create the truly just society, there would be no more criminals, their misdeeds being merely reflections of the evil to which their crimes are coerced responses, and constituting as such an involuntary moral critique.

The old Bolsheviks, one might say, had at least the excuse that they were creating a new social model, whose growing pains could be seen as reasons for indulgence. But notable of Wokeness is that while it imposes such new norms as DEI, it has no vision of the Millennium where “the International Soviet shall be the human race.” On the contrary, even as the famous Gramscian march through the institutions seems nearly complete, it presumably requires no “final conflict” a la the Internationale. Wokeness seeks no final destination other than the undermining of all institutions as the corrupt children of patriarchy and white supremacy—and why not Jewish supremacy? As Ibram Kendi says in his wisdom, the only solution to racism is antiracism, and we can be assured that there will be no “final conflict” after which the latter will lay down its arms.

Wokeness has certainly marched a good long way without so far encountering much resistance. Whatever the moral indignation such practices arouse in some people of my generation—not all by any means—it has now become a natural social reflex: for example, in choosing to proclaim Transgender Visibility Day over Easter.

The original rise of the epistemology of resentment reflected the modernization of society at the outset of the industrial age; the old caste system was obviously no longer an effective form of social organization and la carrière ouverte aux talents required its abolition. In other words, the resentment of the sans-culottes was not simply an selfish reaction; it corresponded to a need of modern society, as the slogans of both the American and French Revolutions made explicit—whence the mob’s tacit support by the less violent members of the tiers-état.

It is not equally obvious what useful function is played by Wokism in the contemporary Western world. The only necessity it appears to reflect would be that of assuaging the post-colonial resentments of the “South,” whose nations at their most productive emulate the West’s drive to industrialization and technical progress and, in the case of China in particular, seek to outperform the West by organizing a more rigorous meritocracy. But that authoritarian rigor is capable of outweighing the residual advantage of Western freedom of thought is far from certain; dictatorship is not a flexible system, and it inevitably gives more weight to the members of its apparatus than to creative thinkers. The fall of Jack Ma and the reabsorption of Hong Kong into the mainland stand as cautions in this respect. On the other hand, the growing disorder of civil society in the West is one problem that China, Russia, and North Korea do not have; petty crime surely does not flourish unpunished on the streets of Shanghai and Pyongyang.

To affirm “white guilt” as the basis of Wokism is a partial but not altogether satisfactory explanation. Woke morality of the DEI sort is nourished by the American racial past, but it may well be that of ultimately greater significance is the growing European awareness of their continent’s increasing demographic domination by formerly colonized peoples, and above all the rise within it of militant Islam, which has been from its origin the religion of the “outsiders” of Western culture, and which has now begun to have an effect in the US as well, notably in Michigan, as Democrats are well aware.

And so once more it is useful to consider the impact of Wokism on antisemitism. The “old” antisemitism, which reached its apogee with Nazism, was founded on the Christian understanding of Judaism as a reactionary formation that resisted the divinely sanctioned transformation of Hebraic into Christian religion, the “new Israel.” No doubt the Nazis were hostile to Christianity as well, tracing the strength of Western culture to its “Aryan” roots, but their focus on the Jews allowed Christians who did not disobey Nazi race policy to avoid any kind of stigma. The “Final Solution” implied that eliminating the Jews would allow the full integration of the Christian elements of Western society into the Volk, whose triumph would inaugurate the glorious future of the “thousand-year Reich.”

Today’s antisemitism, in contrast, is implicitly if not explicitly anti-Christian. It is notable that most believing Christians support Israel against its enemies, whereas those who join the red-green alliance and demonstrate in favor of the Palestinians are, if not “Marxists” as everyone likes to call them, either atheistic or explicitly pro-Muslim. Thus today’s antisemitism is clearly anti-biblical; even if its sympathy for Islam does not fully extend to the religion itself, it is understood as the creed of those oppressed by the West—which is in effect what Islam was from the beginning, substituting “oppressed by” for “resentful of.”

Does this suffice to explain the passions released in the recent anti-Zionist mob actions? Perhaps the clearest point in this conflict is that the Palestinians are seen as simply the victims of the Jews; the lack of repugnance inspired by the horrors of the 10/7 massacre among the demonstrators who accuse the IDF of “genocide” reflects their conviction of the perpetrators’ utter lack of agency. Far more than the petty criminals freed by “progressive” DAs, they were powerless victims viscerally striking out against inhuman oppression. That attendees at the Oscars were seen wearing pins that, hopefully unknown to them, commemorated the vicious slaughter of two Israeli soldiers in Ramallah in October 2000, involuntarily confirms the “naturalness” of this moral inversion.

To implement the traditional American ideal that “all men are created equal,” the obvious solution to racial discrimination is simply to end it, and when possible to offer extra help to those handicapped by it to allow them to prepare for entry into a race-indifferent polity that will no longer be the “white world.” Yet obvious as this seems both from the standpoint of fairness and that of social harmony, it is anything but obvious to a large segment of the population. If DEI is indeed the ultimate destiny of democratic systems as opposed to authoritarian ones, what it implies is the subordination of concern for the good of the community to that of assuaging the potential resentments of its members. But eliminating objective tests for admission to selective programs is not comparable to building ramps for wheelchair-users to access buildings.

Although no one wants to fly in an airplane piloted by an “Affirmative Action” pilot, such sentiments are best kept private, whereas Harvard was proud to pay a near-million-dollar salary to a black woman as president on the strength of a few articles. (That they contained plagiarized texts is really not the point; no white man would have been offered tenure at Harvard with such a record, let alone the presidency.) Yet the widespread public application of Woke morality confirms that today the “disparate impact” criterion overrides any other consideration, including allowing criminal activities to proceed with minimal constraint in black neighborhoods, even if almost entirely at the expense of the black population.

The democratic process permits these populations to choose their own representatives, and not just blacks but Jews as well tend to vote for Democrats; is this an argument for or against democracy? Given the manipulations possible now that elections seem to have become permanently decided by mail ballot over lengthy periods, my impression is that we have already become something of a démocrature; after all, Russia holds elections too. Whatever one thinks of the “insurrection” on January 6, whose perpetrators have been punished far more severely than any comparable group of trespassers in American history, the idea that the 2020 presidential election was straightforwardly legitimate is far from established, and indeed cannot be established so long as the handling of ballots remains as arbitrary as it has become, subject not merely to manipulations of political information but simply straightforward lack of strict controls, with a considerable differential in the two parties’ ability to manipulate the internet and other modes of communication.

Hopefully the D-R balance in the manipulation process can be improved by greater awareness and surveillance among Republican operatives, but the universal mail ballot over a period of several weeks is clearly a highly unreliable means of insuring a fair and tamper-proof voting process, and one that favors the media-driven manipulation of the least-informed voters. Limiting voting to in-person balloting on Election Day, with strict limitations on exceptions, as was universally done before 2020, would at a minimum remove a wholly unnecessary source of public distrust in the election process—which is precisely why there is so little pressure for it to take place.

Despite increasing reaction against Wokeness, the latter clearly remains the unmarked position among those who consider themselves other than “deplorable.” Even the crudely humorous language of the conservative opposition tacitly admits this; horrible as it is to face, Woke absurdities have largely taken the place of what was once called “common sense” as the default position in polite society, and are transmitted without irony to the next generation. I find it somewhere between insulting and amusing to be asked my “pronouns” on official forms.

And rebelling against such practices in the spirit of youthful irreverence is made particularly difficult by the posture of Wokeness as itself a rebellion against traditional Western values. The secret of the success of the “long march through the institutions” is its own persistent application of the epistemology of resentment. And if you don’t yourself experience this resentment, you have only to curse—or to thank—your unconscious conformity to the white patriarchy. A sincere Christian or Jewish faith may suffice to let us resist Wokeness, but the latter’s continued success among the pseudo-non-conformist minds of what were once known as the “chattering classes” demonstrates that the West’s overall faith in its civilization, which once included but did not wholly rely on explicit faith in Biblical religion, is no longer the dominant position.

This is not to deny that the traditional order has not left residues that justify “intersectional” criticism, for example, using drugs previously tested on groups that included only men, or only whites… And one frequently reads articles in science magazines that sympathetically describe, e.g., transsexuals’ sufferings whose reality is independent of their exploitation by those who have joined forces with the “intersectional” Left. But the sufferings and their exploitation are virtually never discussed at the same time; one side charitably bewails society’s failure to solve them, while to the other falls the less pleasant task of unmasking their exploitation. The therapists who write sympathetically of the transgendered would be much more convincing if they did not repress their undoubted awareness of this exploitative element. The cruel absurdity of letting “trans-men” with penises into women’s sports and locker rooms—let alone women’s prisons!—is simply  beyond discussion.

And more generally, it seems obvious that while continuing to ferret out residual inequities, our society should focus the bulk of its political energies on shoring up the meritocracy in an atmosphere of social solidarity, as in M L King’s dream of the little black children going to school together with the little white children—where presumably they would all be graded on the same scale.

At this stage, one wonders if even the threat of military defeat would right the ship. The fundamental moral principle that the common basis of morality and the sacred is the survival of the human community has little traction in contemporary American or European society.

It is no doubt our good fortune that the post-Maoist China conceived by Deng could not withstand the one-party system’s intrinsic drive to concentrate hegemony. But even in the absence of catastrophe, one would hate to have to choose between Xi and Biden, and even trusting Trump with our future is far from ideal. Since the dangerous “post-colonial” charisma of Obama, the absence of political leadership capable of uniting the American nation increasingly appears to reflect a fundamental defect in our governmental system. It cannot be accidental that the current administration is led by what may well be the least intellectually and morally distinguished duumvirate in American history.

Our hope must be that if human institutions are indeed in the first place responses to necessity, and if what we perceive as sacred is the will to carry out such responses in preference to our selfish desires, our society will be driven to overcome its narcissistic virtue-signaling and resume what is still its rightful role of world leadership. At the moment, the American politician who would seem best to embody this promise is the governor of Florida, but there are surely others capable of following his example.

But it is not through reading these Chronicles that the West’s leaders will find the solutions to the world’s political problems. I can only hope that my readers find in them a useful source of anthropological understanding.

Coda added on April 13:

Back in 2016, there were something like 16 candidates for the Republican nomination. Those who have followed these Chronicles will remember that my first impressions of Trump were not very positive; in Chronicle 508 I even called him “Our Duce”—and indeed there has always been something Mussolinesque in his way of addressing the public. And I was also unhappy to hear him denounce a judge who had ruled against him as a “Mexican.”

But I always knew that Trump was not a “racist”; even his denouncing an opponent as “Mexican” was rather a demonstration of his willingness to brawl with every weapon at his disposal than a mark of “racism,” which in its traditional sense of assuming the superiority of the White race to others was never in Trump’s character. As a fellow New-Yorker I learned from birth the necessity of recognizing ethnic differences as significant, which is not the same thing as “white supremacy.”

And what I found particularly admirable about Trump, which conservative never-Trumpers such as the National Review and Commentary crowds could never accept as a virtue, was his total lack of respect for what I called at the time “victimocracy” or “victimary thinking,” which has since morphed into Wokeness: the sinister postmodern faux-Christian twist of turning the epistemology of resentment against “ourselves” as Whites, ostensibly taking the side of “our” victims against “our” racial (and of course, patriarchal) hegemony.

In the debates among the potential Republican nominees, I was struck by the fact that the only two participants who showed themselves to be alive to the capacity for evil of this new wrinkle of the Left were Trump and Ben Carson—who was later happy to join Trump’s cabinet in proof of their ideological compatibility.

What I have found particularly shocking about Commentary’s never-Trumpism was that it seemed intuitively obvious to me from the outset that Trump would be a strong supporter of Israel, a fact that as we know was borne out in a wholly unambiguous fashion. Some will say that this was the fortuitous result of the influence of Ivanka’s husband Jared Kushner, but I need only repeat in this connection a quip I heard from my esteemed friend J. Bragmardo:

Q: “What is the difference between Trump and a Jewish liberal?”

A: “Trump has Jewish grandchildren.”

The current series of betrayals of Israel by Democrats and those farther Left strongly confirms my analysis that antisemitism is far more central to Wokism than appears on the surface. Certainly the Left’s striking indifference to the 10/7 atrocities while railing against Israel’s “genocidal” response confirms this point. Why are all these American late-adolescents, unmoved by the proudly self-documented graphic horrors perpetrated on Israeli civilians, weeping over the “genocide” of Palestinians based on body counts broadcast by Hamas? As though one could even dream of applying the term “genocide” to collateral war deaths among a small segment of the Middle-Eastern Arab population of over a quarter-billion.

The “respectable” New York Times and even George Soros are surely not inherently antisemitic. But in times of raging antisemitism, it is always more prudent to assure the powers that be that one is not among those grasping Jews who look out only for their own kind. When such paragons as Elizabeth Warren are accusing the Jews of genocide, it’s best to show one’s good faith by expressing horror at the loss of “innocent” life—using Hamas statistics—caused by the Israeli bombardments. Dresden and Hiroshima were different, you see, because we were saving “Western civilization,” whereas the Jews of Israel are cruelly exterminating the “native” population for resisting their “occupation.”